Charitable walk/run events draw thousands in spirit of giving, calorie burning

Charitable walk/run events draw thousands in spirit of giving, calorie burning

November 22nd, 2012 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

Colleen Mahn, 16, dressed as a chicken, and Marit Brocker, 17, dressed as a turkey, walk down Market Street during the Grateful Gobbler walk to benefit the Chattanooga Homeless Coalition.

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.


• What: The 13th annual Grateful Gobbler.

• When: Today, pre-registration open at 6:30 a.m.; walk begins at 8 a.m.

• Where: Coolidge Park, 150 River St.

• Admission: $30 for individuals, $10 ages 12 and under (or free with registered adult), includes T-shirt while supplies last.

• Phone: 710-1501.

• Website:

• What: The 21st annual Turkey Trot.

• When: Today, pre-registration opens at 7 a.m.; 1-mile fun run and Kiddie-K start at 8:30 a.m.; three-mile walk starts at 8:45 a.m.; 8K race begins at 9 a.m.

• Where: Sports Barn East, 6418 Lee Highway.

• Admission: $28 for the 8K, $23 for the 3-mile walk and 1-mile fun run, and $18 for the Kiddie-K (ages 12 and under), includes commemorative long-sleeved shirt.

• Phone: 893-4889.

• Website:


If you can't make it to the actual event, the Turkey Trot and Grateful Gobbler have an online donation systems in place at and


• Held since: 1998 (Gobbler), 1991 (Trot).

• Benefiting: The Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition (Gobbler) and Kidney Foundation of the Greater Chattanooga Area (Trot).

• Distance: About three miles (Gobbler), one to five miles (Trot).

• 2011 participation: 1,800 walkers (Gobbler), 1,500-1,800 (Trot).

• 2011 funds raised: $48,000 (Gobbler), $20,000-$30,000 (Trot).

From the cuisine to the football games, Thanksgiving calls to mind many things, but exercise is probably not one of them.

Yet thousands of Chattanoogans rise early every year for the Grateful Gobbler and Turkey Trot, events that offer the charitably minded a chance to put in a few miles to stave off food guilt and help the needy.

Local businessman Fred Robinson and a multi-faith coalition of downtown congregations established the Grateful Gobbler in 1998 after he saw the success of a similar event held in Nashville. The event grew out of an established event hosted by the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition, which saw much higher levels of participation after rebranding it and moving it to Thanksgiving, Robinson says.

"It's a wonderful combination of having family and new friends and physical activity together in one place to hopefully raise money for people who need it," says Betsy McCright, a long-time volunteer and co-chairwoman for the Grateful Gobbler, which benefits area homeless.

Last year, the Gobbler last year drew about 1,800 participants for a stress-free, family friendly three-mile walk to and from Coolidge Park along Market Street. The event created a diverse crowd full of walkers, roller bladers, joggers and runners of all ages.

"It's that magic day of the year when you're with family and are overindulging, usually, with dinner, and you don't have morning obligations," Robinson says. "People just seem to enjoy getting an hour of exercise before they go home and eat."

After covering organizational costs for the event, net proceeds are added to the "Gobbler Fund," a financial warchest that charitable organizations can tap to provide assistance for area homeless or those in danger of being homeless. The needs are diverse, from bus passes necessary for reaching appointments to paying off debts that prevent otherwise eligible candidates from securing public housing, says McCright, who also is executive director of the Chattanooga Housing Authority.

In addition to the walk, the start and finish line at Coolidge Park will host a costume contest for best runner dressed as a turkey and a gobble-off to determine the event's best turkey caller. Winners will receive a calorie-unfriendly gift certificate to Clumpie's Ice Cream.

Even the un-costumed can take solace in knowing the miles are helping more than their waistline, says Kim Coulter, the event's other co-chairwoman.

"The name couldn't be any more perfect," she says. "Once you do this walk, you'll want to do it every year because it's about how good you feel inside."

Those looking for a more strenuous start to their Thanksgiving holiday -- or seeking to burn off extra helpings -- can participate in a range of events at the Turkey Trot, which benefits the Kidney Foundation of the Greater Chattanooga Area.

The Trot was started by the Lee Highway branch of Sports Barn in 1990 after the staff noticed that the facility was swamped by exercisers working out before the evening meal, says race director Carolyn Varnell.

"It was a very, very, very busy day at the Sports Barn, and we decided we may as well have an event since so many people were there," she says. "I think it's because people eat so much and want to justify what they eat."

The Trot initially was comprised of an 8K run and a one-mile fun run. After seeing many participants in the longer event who were jogging rather than running, however, organizers eventually added a Kiddie-K for younger participants and a three-mile walk.

After its inaugural field of 300 participants, event has grown to 1,500 to 2,000 participants.

"Everyone in the family has something to do," Varnell says. "There's a huge amount of diversity."

Although the event now benefits the Kidney Foundation, past beneficiaries have included the American Cancer Society and the Special Olympics.

Even if those who spend the morning burning off calories at the Trot turn around and consume them again, the scales will still tip in favor of the greater good, Varnell says.

"All the money stays in Chattanooga. It's just a fun event. Every year, people come up to me and say 'Thank you.' "

Contact Casey Phillips at or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.